Air force deployed at Dhaka airport amid tension
Apr 22, 2007 - 11:43:33 PM

Dhaka, April 22 - The non-party interim government in Bangladesh deployed the air force at the international airport in Dhaka Sunday as tensions were running high over the imminent departure of former prime minister Khaleda Zia for exile in Saudi Arabia, officials said.

Although Zia's political colleagues described her trip to the Saudi city of Jeddah as one of many private visits she has undertaken during her five-year term for the Haj pilgrimage and medical check-ups, diplomatic sources said she might have to stay in Saudi Arabia for an 'extended period'.

Zia ruled Bangladesh as its first woman prime minister, leading a coalition of nationalists and Islamists. Her rule was marred by corruption, political unrest and rising terrorism, analysts said. She stepped down after the expiry of her term, handing over power late last year to a non-party interim government for the holding of elections.

The authorities sounded a red alert amid rumours that Zia's supporters could stage protests against her expulsion.

Media reports said the military-backed government wanted to expel the 61-year-old ex-premier by Sunday before launching a drive to clean up the corrupt electoral process.

The air force was given the charge of the overall security and operation of the airport, the daily Ittefaq said.

Meanwhile, Zia's strongest political rival and another former prime minister, Sheikh Hasina was desperately trying to return home from London. But close aides said that the airline that was to take her to Dhaka refused her boarding pass, making her return now uncertain.

Sources in the ministry of home affairs said that Hasina, 59, would be immediately arrested on arrival.

'She will be detained on arrival for not heeding to the government's request to stay abroad,' said an official who refused to be named.

The authorities said Hasina was a security threat in Bangladesh because of her recent provocative statements made while abroad, a government spokesman said.

Hasina, who was prime minister from 1996 to 2001, is also accused of the murder of an Islamic militant in October last during a political rally in Dhaka.

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